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Last night was Halloween, a time where young people across the land dress up, scare themselves and overdo it on chocolate and sweets. In many ways our night at New Horizon Youth Centre was no different.

Although we are set up and funded to open our doors from 10:30am to 4pm every day, we stayed open until 8pm last night so that the homeless young people we support could enjoy the festivities, with pumpkins, Halloween-themed food, a film and the odd creepy costume.

The scariest thing of all however was knowing that as our doors closed, 15 of the young people we’d been enjoying Halloween with would be heading out onto the streets to sleep rough. The recent cold snap has surprised us all and you don’t have to know much about homelessness to understand that the drop in temperatures is a massive problem for anyone without somewhere to stay.

A temporary answer to this problem comes in the form of emergency winter shelters, for which we’re now preparing the rough sleepers amongst our community so they’re ready to move in as soon as spaces become available. These shelters and in particular our partners C4WS are a godsend, but their seasonal nature throws into sharp relief the chronic lack of emergency accommodation during the rest of the year.

People are often shocked to hear that there is only a single emergency shelter open year round for the whole of London, our dear friends at Shelter from the Storm. It’s for this reason that, when asked what our biggest challenge is as an organisation, I answer without hesitation: finding accommodation for the young people who come through our doors.

When asked what our biggest challenge is as an organisation, I answer without hesitation: finding accommodation for the young people who come through our doors.

NHYCCEOPhilKerry

Phil Kerry, New Horizon Youth Centre's CEO

As the numbers of rough sleepers in London grows winter shelters and other schemes like Nightstop - though fantastic and vital - simply don’t have capacity for the volume of young people coming to us in crisis, needing somewhere safe to stay as a matter of urgency.

We launch our new organisational strategy in March and central to this will be an objective to unlock more places for young people to stay in the short term and call home in the long term. As a relatively small organisation we’ve been doing what we can; growing our Emergency Fund to pay for rooms in backpackers’ hostels, launching design competitions for short-stay accommodation, and even taking on our own housing projects for the first time in our 50 year history.

There is some good work happening across the sector and Government is looking at this but we need to make sure that we have more provision and that what is available works for young people. There is widespread acknowledgement that young people are underrepresented in the London CHAIN statistics, so it isn’t surprising that they are often an afterthought when it comes to rough sleeping services. If we are serious about ending youth homelessness here then we need to:

• Evaluate the apparent discrepancies between CHAIN data on young people sleeping rough and the numbers encountered by the youth homelessness sector.

• Investigate the reasons behind and patterns of young people sleeping rough in London.

• Consider how provision can be adapted and scaled, especially the availability of shelters for specific groups.

To see how we could work together to do this please do get in touch.

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